Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Steal Victory in 'Thief's Market'

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Thief's Market cover

After a hard day of stealing and grifting, the band of thieves is ready to divvy up the loot–and go shopping with their ill-gotten gains at the Thief’s Market. Take whatever you want from the pile, but if you’re too greedy, somebody might just take from you instead!

At a glance: Thief’s Market is a game by Dave Chalker for 3 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $17 for a copy of the game. Based on my plays, I think 10 is about the right age for the game: it’s a light-hearted theme, with a lot of stealing from each other.

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Thief's Market
Some substitute components shown, since this is a prototype. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components:

  • 1 Start Player marker
  • 25 Gold Coins
  • 25 Infamy tokens
  • 13 Loot dice
  • 49 Market cards
  • 5 player reference cards

I played a prototype version of Thief’s Market so the component quality is not final. Some of the components, like the Gold Coins and Infamy tokens, were actually substituted from other games, and the cards were also not final quality, though most of the artwork looks complete. Also, the exact component list may be subject to change, depending on stretch goals.

Thief's Market
There’s a lot of humor in the card titles and illustrations.
(Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The illustrations are by Rob Lundy, who has illustrated several games including Dungeon Roll and Harbour, with graphic design by Adam McIver, of Coin Age and Best Treehouse Ever. The illustrations are pretty funny, and there’s a lot of humor in the Market cards.

Thief's Market dice
You like custom dice? Here are some pretty ones. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The dice are custom dice, with the symbols engraved and painted, and these are final production quality. They’re nice: black dice with colored symbols that really pop.

Thief's Market
The initial setup: 5 “A” Market cards available, with A, B, and C decks to the side. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play

The goal of the game is to gain the most notoriety by purchasing items, henchmen, and valuables.

To set up the game, you’ll shuffle the three Market decks separately, and then make three decks: 13 A cards, 12 B cards, and 11 C cards. These are set out on the table face-down. The rest of the cards are returned to the box. The top 5 A cards are flipped over in a row to form the starting market. The player who most recently stole something takes the first player marker. Each player gets 1 gold coin.

Each round has two phases: Splitting the Loot, and Making Purchases.

Splitting the Loot: to start off, the Start Player rolls all of the dice and places them with the start player marker in the center of the table. Then, in turn order, players get to take some loot. On your turn, you may take any number of things from the pool (including the start player marker). Or, you may steal from another player, in which case you take all of that player’s loot, but you must return at least one item to the pool (and you must keep at least one item for yourself). If you return any dice, you re-roll them. You only take loot if you don’t have anything already. Once every player has loot, this phase is over.

Thief's Market
The Market, where thieves go to buy equipment, henchmen, and valuables. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Making Purchases: beginning with the player holding the start player token, each player may purchase one card from the market. You spend the gems on the dice you currently have, as well as gold coins from your supply, which can be substituted for any gem. You may only purchase one card unless you have other items that allow multiple purchases, in which case you do all of your purchases at once. During this phase, you may also use item abilities on your card if applicable.

Thief's Market
Gems are generally used to purchase cards; gold bags and infamy symbols are cashed in after the Market phase. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, at the end of the round, players turn in the rest of their dice: purple laurels earn you 1 Infamy token each, and gold bags earn you 1 gold coin each. (Note that the gold bag dice cannot be spent directly–you must wait until the end of the phase, exchange them for gold coins, and then spend the gold coins later.) All dice are returned to the center, even those that weren’t spent.

More cards are flipped to refill the market–if there aren’t enough to fill 5 A slots, then flip what remains and also flip over 5 B cards. The remaining A cards may still be purchased but will not be refilled. When there aren’t enough cards to refill 5 C slots, the game ends immediately.

Thief's Market
I have some cards that let me use gems as wild, swap gems for Infamy, buy extra cards, and even gain Infamy when somebody steals from me. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Some cards are simply worth points, and Infamy tokens are worth 1 point each. Also, the player with the most Henchman icons on their cards earns 3 points and second place earns 1 point. The player with the most gold coins also earns 3 points. Finally, there may be cards that reward other points.

The player with the highest score wins; ties are broken by most cards owned, and then most Infamy tokens. If still tied, victory goes to the first player to grab the start player marker and run from the room shouting “You fools! Muahahahaha!” (So far none of my games has come down to this, but I’m ready.)

The Verdict

Thief’s Market is a little bit like a white elephant party–you get to pick whatever you want, but if you get something good it might get stolen from you. The difference here, though, is that you can take the whole pile of presents if you want. Oh, and also that when you steal from each other, some loot gets dropped and goes back into the pile. This leads to some interesting tactical decisions: do you take a bunch and hope you get away with it? Do you just take a couple of things you really want so that it’s not worth stealing from you? Sometimes you really want to prevent an opponent from getting something, but is it worth getting a tiny haul just to spite them?

The other thing is that the loot pile consists of gems that must be spent immediately, gold bags that aren’t any good until a later round, and points. Depending on what’s available in the market and what you currently have, you’ll have to decide what makes the most sense for you and how much it’s worth fighting over.

The divvying-up is really the heart of the game, but of course the market is where you spend that loot you just got. There are a variety of cards, with costs (and abilities) going up as you progress through the game. Some cards help you score points, and some cards help you get more cards (directly or indirectly). It’s a balance between going for points and building up an economic engine.

For instance, there are cards that let you change the color of certain gems, or spend gems on Infamy tokens. Some let you turn gems into gold bags, which is handy for getting something for the dice you weren’t able to spend during a turn. There are cards that allow you to purchase additional cards, and some that let you score points when you purchase certain cards.

A few of the cards are worth more points if you have cards of a certain type. For instance, the cards with the Safehouse icon are more valuable if you have a pair. The Treasure Map is worth more points if you’re the only player with one. Going into a game, though, you don’t know how many Safehouse or Treasure Map cards are in the market decks, and whether it’s a good investment or not.

I really enjoyed playing Thief’s Market, particularly that psychological aspect of figuring out what to take and what to leave behind, when to steal and when to settle for the remainder. However, that part of the game also took longer than I initially expected. I recommend using a timer if your gamers are taking a bit too long to decide or getting over-analytical.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty nice game that’s not too difficult to teach to kids and newer gamers, but still offers some nice opportunities for strategy. And at $17, it’s a steal. (Sorry, had to be said.)

For more about Thief’s Market, visit the Kickstarter page.

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